Old English/Pronouns

Introduction: Introduction - Grammar - Orthography - I-mutation
Grammar: Nouns - Pronouns - Articles - Adjectives - Numbers - Verbs - Participles - Adverbs - Conjunctions - Prepositions - Interjections - Appositives - Word Formation -


Pronouns are used to substitute for nouns. They are words like "I", "you", "he", "they", "anybody", "who", and many more. They are not a requirement of a sentence, and it is possible for them to never to be used in sentences. However, they are useful because they help avoid repeating the same noun over and over again; and they make it easer for a sentence to understand. For an example without using any pronouns, see this sentence:

  • Alistair is doing what Alistair thinks is best for Alistair's rights as a human being.

Because it repeats "Alistair" so much it seems strange and tedious. A more usual way to say the above, using pronouns, would be:

  • Alistair is doing what he thinks is best for his rights as a human being.

There are different types of pronouns:

  • Personal pronouns - usually refer to specific persons or objects
  • Interrogative pronouns - used to ask questions of identity like Modern English "who", "what", and "which one"
  • Relative pronouns - used after another substansive to add additional information, like Modern English "who" in "John is the person who I like"
  • Demonstrative pronouns - words used often when pointing to something, with with a sense of location, as in Modern English "this" or "that"
  • Indefinite pronouns - used to talk about nobody in particular, or about everyone in general, like Modern English "anybody" and "everybody". Also includes negative pronouns - pronouns used to talk about "nobody" or "nothing".

Like nouns and adjectives, pronouns are declined according to case, gender (only sometimes), and number.

Personal pronounsEdit

The simple personal pronouns are declined like this:

First personEdit

First person pronouns are pronouns that refer to the speaker (in singular), or the speaker and other people (in dual and plural), like Modern English "I" and "we".

Case Singular Dual Plural
Nominative wit
Accusative meċ, mē (in later OE) uncit, unc ūsiċ, ūs
Genitive mīn uncer ūser, ūre
Dative unc ūs

Notice that there is a dual number; it means "both" or "two" as in "we both" or "we two". The separate dual number is exceptional and rare. If used with an adjective or a verb, it should take the same declensions and conjugations as plural. Since there is a dual number for each set of pronouns, the plural form should only be used for three or more.

Second personEdit

Second person pronouns are for the person who is being spoken to, like Modern English "you".

Case Singular Dual Plural
Nominative þū ġit ġē
Accusative þeċ, þē (in later OE) inċit, inċ ēowiċ, ēow
Genitive þīn inċer ēower
Dative þē inċ ēow

Third personEdit

Third person pronouns refer to another person not involved in a conversation, like Modern English "he", "she", "it", and "they".

Case Masc. sg. Neut. sg. sg. Fem. sg. Pl. all genders
Nominative hit hēo hīe
Accusative hine hit hīe hīe
Genitive his his hire heora
Dative him him hire him

Interrogative pronounsEdit

Interrogative pronouns are pronouns used to ask questions of identity, such as Modern English "who" and "what" as in "Who are you?" and "What is that animal?" The following are Old English interrogative pronouns:

"Hwā" - "who"
Case Sg. and pl.
Nominative hwā
Accusative hwone
Genitive hwæs
Dative hwǣm, hwām
"Hwæt" - "what"
Case Sg. and pl.
Nominative hwæt
Accusative hwæt
Genitive hwæs
Dative hwǣm, hwām
Instrumental hwȳ

The instrumental form of "hwæt" (hwȳ) is used to mean "why". Also used for "why" is for hwȳ.

In Old English, they had a word meaning "which of two" as might be used in "Which of the two children went with you?", declined the same as the strong adjective declension.

"Hwæðer" - "which of two"
Case Singular Plural
Masculine Neuter Feminine Masculine Neuter Feminine
Nominative hwæðer hwæðre hwæðer hwæðra
Accusative hwæðerne hwæðer hwæðere hwæðre hwæðer hwæðra
Genitive hwæðres hwæðerre hwæðerra
Dative hwæðrum hwæðerre hwæðrum
Instrumental hwæðre hwæðerre hwæðrum

Like hwæðer is āhwæðer "some one, something; any one; anything", ǣġhwæðer "of two" "either, both, each"; "of many" "every one, each", nāhwæðer "neither", swæðer "whichever of two, whosoever of two".

The following word is also used as an interrogative adjective, like Modern English "which" as in "Which fruit did you eat?" Used standalone as a pronoun, though, it means "which one". Because it is an adjective, it also simply takes the strong adjectival declension.

"Hwilċ" - "which one"
Case Singular Plural
Masculine Neuter Feminine Masculine Neuter Feminine
Nominative hwilċ hwilċe hwilċ hwilca
Accusative hwilcne hwilċ hwilċe hwilċe hwilċ hwilca
Genitive hwilċes hwilcre hwilcra
Dative hwilcum hwilcre hwilcum
Instrumental hwilċe hwilcre hwilcum

Like hwilc is swilċ "such", ġehwilc "each/every one", ǣġhwilċ "each one, every one", nāthwilċ "someone I know not", samhwilċ "some".

Relative pronounsEdit

Relative pronouns are pronouns that are used to refer to an earlier substansive, called an antecedant, and give additional information, as the "who" in the following examples:

  • "It was John who did that" - Hit wæs Iohannes se þe dyde þæt
  • "I like men who know what they're doing" - Mē līciaþ menn þā þe witon þæt hīe dōþ

And the "that" in the following examples:

  • "The thing that I hate most about it, is the stupidity of it all" - Þæt þing þæt iċ þæs mǣst hatġe, is his dwola
  • "All the trees that I cut down had green leaves" - Eall þā trēow þā iċ fylede hæfdon grēnu lēaf

And the "which" in the following examples:

  • "The squirrel, which was red, ran away" - Þæt ācwern þæt þe rēad wæs, earn aweġ
  • "The house which I live in is old" - Þæt hūs in þǣm þe iċ wunie is eald

In Old English, the relative pronoun was the same as the definitive article, but it could be followed in addition by þe. You could also use just þe by itself.

"Se (þe)" - "who, which, that"
Case Masculine Neuter Feminine Plural all genders
Nominative se (þe) þæt (þe) sēo (þe) þā (þe)
Accusative þone (þe) þæt (þe) þā (þe) þā (þe)
Genitive þæs (þe) þǣre (þe) þāra (þe)
Dative þǣm (þe), þām (þe) þǣre (þe) þǣm (þe), þām (þe)

Note that because se by itself could also mean "that (one", alongside this relative pronoun meaning; and þe alone could be a relative pronoun, se þe could actually be just a relative pronoun, or a relative pronoun and an indicative pronoun combined, e.g. "that which" or "he who".

A kind of word which in Modern English could be confused with a relative pronoun, is an indirect interrogative. The bold words in the following examples are indirect interrogatives:

  • "I asked him what he was doing"
  • "Do you know who they are?"

As in Modern English, the indirect interrogative pronouns in Old English were the same as the normal interrogative pronouns, for which see the "Interrogative pronouns" section of this page.

Demonstrative pronounsEdit

Demonstrative pronouns are the kind of pronoun you might use while pointing at something, often having also a sense of location, as in Modern English "this" and "that", where "this" has a meaning like "the one here" and that has a meaning like "the one there".

"Þes" - "this"
Case Singular Plural
Masculine Neuter Feminine All genders
Nominative þes þis þēos þās
Accusative þisne þis þās þās
Genitive þisses þisse, þisre þissa, þisra
Dative þissum þisse, þisre þissum
Instrumental þȳs - -

The plural of þes (þās) has the meaning of "these".

"Se" - "that"
Case Singular Plural
Masculine Neuter Feminine All genders
Nominative se þæt sēo þā
Accusative þone þæt þā þā
Genitive þæs þǣre þāra
Dative þǣm, þām þǣre þāra
Instrumental þȳs - -

It is obvious to see that the Modern English word "that" came from the neuter form of this word - þæt. This word was also the definitive article (like Modern English "the") in Old English, so if it was used to modify a noun, it might either mean "the" or "that", depending on context.

Indefinite pronounsEdit

Indefinite pronouns are pronouns which don't refer to anything specific. They can have the sense of "any" or "every". They also include negative pronouns - pronouns that mean "nothing" or "nobody".

  • Ġehwā - "anybody" or "everybody"; declined just like the interrogative pronoun hwā.
  • Ġehwilċ - "anything/anyone" or "everything/everyone"; declined just like the interrogative pronoun hwilċ.
  • Ġehwæt - "anything" or "everything"; declined just the the interrogate pronoun hwæt.

Negative pronounsEdit

Negative indefinite pronouns, or simply negative pronouns, are pronouns which refer to a lack of someone or something, like "nothing" in Modern English.

Nā(wi)ht - "nothing"
Case 'Sg. (no need for plural)
Nominative nā(wi)ht
Accusative nā(wi)ht
Genitive nā(wi)ht-es
Dative nā(wi)ht-e

Note that nā(wi)ht is actually a compound of - "not" and wiht - "something". The declension is simply the strong singular neuter noun declension.

"Nobody" is in Old English nān mann, which is actually just the negative article (which is declined like a strong adjective) and the noun mann - "human", "person", for whose declension see here.

BibliographyEdit

A part of the text in this article, was taken from the public domain English grammar "The Grammar of English Grammars" by Goold Brown, 1851.

Last modified on 26 June 2013, at 14:44